At a time when the President of the Republic himself is evoking for the first time the notion of sobriety, let's consider for a moment the meaning of this unappealing term for a consumer.

Gilles Séré de Lanauze, University of Montpellier and Jeanne Lallement, La Rochelle University

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The question is well known to responsible consumers, who are surprised that there are so many of them talking about it and so few acting on it. It is also well known to researchers who are desperately trying to understand this gap between attitudes and behaviors in responsible consumption.

This word of sobriety, which is not very attractive, is now being used, advocated and promoted at the highest levels of government. Will we finally see the image of the responsible consumer evolve? Indeed, if the notion of responsibility is globally presented as positive, what about that of the responsible consumer? How is this image conveyed by the press and advertising? Do we want, deep down, as consumers, to be responsible consumers?

Could we not hypothesize that the very image of the responsible consumer, an image that is perhaps not all that positive, would explain in part the gap between attitudes and behaviors - the famous "do as I say, not as I do" - in terms of responsible consumption?

An unsexy responsible consumer

The results of a study we conducted with consumers on their image of a responsible consumer identified several negative archetypal figures of the responsible consumer.

Based on an in-depth analysis of the respondents' speeches, four unattractive metaphors shed light on the latent images associated with responsible consumers. He would be a fundamentalist, a hermit, a killjoy or a snob.

  • Thefundamentalist (or ayatollah) expresses the perceptions of a responsible consumer in permanent conflict with the rest of society and willingly in excess and intransigence.
  • The hermit is a second image often evoked, of a responsible consumer in rupture of society, isolated and marginal, often in deprivation and the return to the past, to the steam engine.
  • The killjoy is a sad person, too serious, always in duty rather than in pleasure and willingly moralizing.
  • Finally, at the opposite end of the spectrum, the responsible consumer can also be seen as a snob, he is then perceived as the "bobo", haughty, superior, subject to the influences of the media and fashion effects, and having the financial means to do so.

The analysis of these different negative archetypes of the responsible consumer reveals as many obstacles to the adoption of responsible consumption behaviors. Respectively, we identify a barrier to integration linked to the fear of conflict induced by a posture perceived as too fundamentalist, "to the point"; a barrier to desirability with this other form of marginality associated with the hermit and the refusal of modernity; a barrier to hedonism, if we follow the killjoy, incapable of any spontaneous pleasure, and rationalizing all consumption decisions. Finally, the "bobo" responsible consumer is associated with a brake of identification and the rejection of an elitist and condescending posture.

All too often, we find these archetypes, relayed and conveyed by advertising, of an unsexy responsible consumer.

Several types of negative perceptions

In a next step, another research that we published sought to verify to what extent these archetypes could indeed have an explanatory effect on responsible consumption intentions and behaviors. The study, conducted with a sample of 363 individuals, analyzed the reactions of respondents to a message inviting them to follow a recommendation issued by a responsible consumer.

First, statistical analyses clearly identified three types of negative perceptions, depending on whether they qualified the relationship to oneself (risk of loss of desirability according to commonly accepted criteria of beauty or youth), the relationship to others (risk of loss of socialization in connection with the perception in the eyes of others) or the relationship to modernity (risk of being out of step with the present time and modernity)

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The study then showed that while perceptions of the responsible consumer remained positive (overall, respondents did not criticize the responsible consumer who urged them to behave responsibly), the associated negative perceptions influenced intentions to behave responsibly.

Furthermore, the study shows that the perception of oneself as a responsible consumer moderates the observed effect. For consumers who declare themselves less responsible on average than the others, any defect associated with the responsible consumer, whether it be a defect in sociability, desirability or modernity, is likely to penalize behavioral intentions. Whereas for consumers who declare themselves more responsible on average than the rest of the sample, only the modernity flaw can still negatively influence their intentions. They are probably the first to suffer from the lack of modernity associated with the image of the responsible consumer...

Injunctions to responsibility

The pressure of current events is becoming stronger today on our behavior. The health crisis, then the recent manifestations of the climate crisis, and finally the crisis of purchasing power, in a context of energy crisis and inflation, all this tends to multiply the injunctions for a more responsible consumption.

While it is fortunate that these crises will lead to a gradual narrowing of the gap between attitudes and behaviours in terms of responsible consumption, it will also be interesting to observe the repercussions on the perceived image of the responsible consumer.

To what extent will it become glamorous, sociable and modern in the immediate future? To what extent, above all, will we not need such positive figures to accompany us in the transitions to come?The Conversation

Gilles Séré de Lanauze, Senior Lecturer in Marketing University of Montpellier and Jeanne Lallement, University Professor (Marketing), La Rochelle University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read theoriginal article.